Sunday, January 6, 2013

Coming to a Jordanian border near you

Coming to a Jordanian border near you

Yoav Limor

The parties involved in completing the fence along the Egyptian border are most certainly justified in patting themselves on the back. The mission was accomplished in record time, and the tide of migrant workers from Africa has been stemmed.

However, the joy will soon be diverted as the focus shifts to new threats: The infiltrators will continue looking for ways in, this time from the Jordanian border, and terrorist threats loom from across the border with Syria. These two reasons — jobs and terrorism, in that order — were behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government's decision two and a half years ago to build the fence along the Egyptian border.

At the height of infiltration efforts by migrant workers, some 2,000 people crossed into Israel every month, and analysts predicted that hundreds of thousands more planned to come in their wake. Families, mainly from Eritrea but also from Ghana, South Sudan and other countries, collected thousands of dollars to send a representative to Israel. Following an arduous journey, including a flight to Egypt and a trek across the Sinai Peninsula, the workers would arrive here. The money they managed to save would be sent back to pay for more family members and friends to come. This economic mechanism brought nearly 100,000 workers to Israel in recent years while funding the Bedouin smuggling clans in Sinai, who charged an average of $2,000 per person wishing to enter Israel.

The economic-demographic threat, coupled with the concern that the refugees would provide a platform that could be exploited by terrorist organizations to carry out attacks in Israel, greatly accelerated the speed in which the fence was constructed; the official ceremony to mark its completion was held on Wednesday (excluding the topographically difficult area adjacent to Eilat, which will be finished in two months).

More than 100 contractors and 600 task groups comprising over 1,000 employees, all working simultaneously, dug enough dirt to fill more than a million and a half semi-trailers, while using 45,000 tons of steel.

In contrast to other obstacles (the security barrier in the West Bank, and the fences along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon), the fence along the Egyptian border isn't intended to stall infiltration, but to stop it altogether. It's very high, some 5 meters (16 feet) on average, and made of steel, combining deep foundations at the bottom with jagged knife-like edges at the top, essentially preventing anyone wishing to cross over the top or from underneath. Along with technological enhancements and lookouts deployed along the fence, it is supposed to prevent infiltrators, terrorists and smugglers from Sinai from crossing into Israel.

Despite all these factors, however, the phenomenon won't be completely eliminated. The money-workers-smugglers-terror combination will steer the problem eastward to the border with Jordan. In a short period of time Israel will also need to begin building a real barrier along our lengthiest border. This will happen after a similar barrier is built on the Golan Heights along the Syrian border, where the danger is clear and present: war refugees and al-Qaida terrorism.

At present, 10 kilometers (6 miles) of new fence, the preventative kind, has already been built on the Golan Heights. A further 60 kilometers (37 miles) of fence is in the accelerated construction phase.

It will take a few years until the projects in the north and east are finished, and then Israel will be surrounded by fences. It's not exactly a formula for peace, rather a necessary step meant to help, one hopes, stop the threats knocking on our doors from getting in.